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AOP Awards 2018

Student of the Year 2018

Gareth Towers has been awarded optometry Student of the Year 2018

Winner: Gareth Towers

Inspired to pursue optometry during an eye-opening gap year, Mr Towers looks forward to using his clinical skills once qualified to help people.

During 12 months in Uganda on a gap year, Gareth Towers volunteered to work with a group of 30 children in one of the poorest areas of the city where he was living. It was this experience that influences his career aspirations for when he is a qualified optometrist. “I was amazed at how the lack of accessibility of spectacles impacted the day-to-day lives of these children,” he said, sharing that he began studying optometry “with the pure intention of using my new skillset abroad to help others.” 

Currently enrolled at Plymouth University, Mr Towers is supportive of his fellow peers in their learning, often organising group revision sessions and helping others practise clinical techniques in the lab. “Not only did these sessions help us all to master the skill, it also formed the beginning of many new friendships,” he said.  

Offering his peers advice, the undergraduate emphasises: “Even though university can often be hard work and sometimes stressful, it is also such an exciting time. It is worth just taking a step back to appreciate where you are currently at.”

“It is worth just taking a step back to appreciate where you are currently at”

Gareth Towers

Runners up

Finalist: Kirstin Mackinnon

Student Kirstin Mackinnon gets a sense of fulfilment when she helps improve someone’s sight. 

As an art lover, Ms Mackinnon’s vision means a lot to her and she thinks it is important for everyone to be able to appreciate what they see around them, which is why she wants to be an optometrist. 

Sharing her career aspirations for life as a qualified optometrist, Ms Mackinnon wants to “learn as much as possible first,” before gaining some ‘real life’ experience, after which further study is on the agenda. “I plan to work towards becoming an independent prescribing optometrist, and possibly undertake a PhD,” she said. 

Finalist: Manal Malik

Seeing the difference that a pair of glasses made to her life inspired Manal Malik to become an optometrist.

Undergraduate Ms Malik is studying to become an optometrist so she can share her knowledge, experience and ability to help others with their sight. Having been prescribed spectacles at the age of 11 after struggling to read the board at school, Ms Malik is already putting her skills into practise through volunteer work, having taken part on a volunteering trip on The Transnet Phelophepa train. 

Understanding the importance of promoting the public’s awareness of the importance of regular eye examinations, Ms Malik recently supported the Royal National Institute of Blind People by running a half marathon to raise funds to help the charity in its work.